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In 2018, Chandresh Dedhia took up the job as head of IT at Ascent, a distributor of pharma products, but little did he know his responsibilities would expand beyond what he had set out to do.
At Ascent, the seasoned IT leader had been standardising IT across all of its warehouses in India, enabling data-driven decision-making for business users and building a security-by-design culture, but his remit was expanded about two years later, when API Holdings was formed.
API Holdings is one of India’s largest digital healthcare platforms, whose founders were behind Ascent and other digital health offerings it developed or acquired over the years. These include PharmEasy, a consumer healthcare app; Thyrocare, a health diagnostics player; Retailio, an ordering platform for pharma retailers; Docon, an electronic health record system; and Aknamed, a hospital-focused supply chain platform.
The formation of API Holdings propelled Dedhia into the group chief information officer (CIO) role, overseeing technology strategy across a vast spectrum of digital healthcare. One of his mandates was to improve operational efficiency across the group through standardisation and greater use of automation.
Then, the Covid-19 pandemic hit, unexpectedly supercharging healthcare and pharma businesses all over the world, including those in India. “There was a lot of momentum,” said Dedhia. “What we did in six to seven years was suddenly happening in two years. It was the right time to drive scale and standardisation.”
He started by addressing challenges that had plagued the fragmented healthcare industry for years, with regional and local healthcare players typically operating in data silos. By building a common data lake and data warehouse, Dedhia said API Holdings has been able to improve margins and sales while meeting the demands of the market in a proactive way.
Besides the emphasis on data and synergy, Dedhia also created apps that addressed some pain-points of the business. A crowdsourcing app helped the company to acquire market data instead of relying on extrapolated data from research agencies. This helped the company to better understand overall market trends and needs – hence improving its time-to-market.
Reducing wait time
There is also a retailer onboarding app that speeds up the entire know-your-customer (KYC), certification and documentation process without compromising on the rigour needed. Similarly, a sales app helped the company to substantially reduce the wait time that a salesperson had to devote for every order. “Our system is as intuitive as a fast-food chain’s kitchen,” said Dedhia. “The orders would go directly to people who take care of them without unnecessary wait-time.”
The automation efforts were extended to other back-office functions such as processing purchase orders (POs). He said that with legacy systems, creating and acting on POs – which can range between 10 and 20 at any time for API Holdings – is time consuming, with only one PO being sorted each week.
That prompted the company to deploy a robotic process automation (RPA) system, reducing processing time per PO from days to hours. “The algorithm can look at past and future data and calculate existing stock to create a PO,” he said. “The document is ready for the purchase officer to review the next day.”
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Dedhia’s vast experience as a tech and business leader in industries as diverse as supply chain, biotechnology and commercial real estate enables him to diagnose and treat IT issues before they become too much to handle.
His foresight and expertise came in handy when he brought in big initiatives like a network overhaul with software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN), streamlining of all enterprise resource planning (ERP) capabilities around one core system, as well as cyber security investments with a focus on endpoint and cloud security, as many of the company’s workloads are in the public cloud.
Asked about what makes his role thrilling and challenging, Dedhia said: “Five years ago, just thinking about getting food or medicine through a phone was a fantasy in India. Today, that’s both accessible and affordable. IT in the post-Covid business environment is very different from pre-Covid. In pharma, speed matters, but we also have to take care of compliance. Nothing is sold without prescription.”
As someone who has just finished an Iron Man race in India, he never loses sight of anything once he sets it as his goal. The triathlete, marathon runner, environmentalist and wildlife enthusiast in him makes sure he brings a long-horizon lens, discipline, sustainability and rigour to everything he does.
Right now, Dedhia is busy harmonising all of API Holdings’ systems on one page, so that the after-effects of the merger and acquisition activities the company has undertaken do not disrupt and slow down the business. “Whether it’s an Iron Man race or an IT challenge, one can always cross the winning line if one is consistent,” he said. “Start small but start somewhere and keep racing.”